March 2007 - Vol. 6
The People of God Community
“Once you were no people, but now you are God's people” - 1 Peter 2:10
by Connie Maletta
Like a tiny seedIn the late 1960s and the early 1970s a new movement of Christian covenant communities began in the United States and quickly grew throughout the world. One of these founding communities is the People of God community, located in Coraopolis near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Connie Maletta, a member of the People of God community, tells the story of its beginnings — from a tiny seed to its transformation into a charismatic ecumenical transgenerational Christian community.
In 1970 Bob and Bobbie began attending prayer meetings together. Their faith grew as they prayed weekly and listened to God’s word. They asked the prayer group to pray with them to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Soon after, they returned to the Pittsburgh area and began looking for a prayer group to meet with for spiritual support in their newly-found walk with God.
There were a number of small prayer groups forming all over the Greater Pittsburgh area. Each group met regularly, usually one evening a week. But with many people coming and going, like a revolving door, Bob and Bobbie sensed a need and a call to be part of a community of people who wanted to be more committed to sharing their lives and resources together for the Lord's work.
some of the young adults in the People of God community
In 1973, when Bob and Bobbie began inviting people to meet together for prayer, study and discussion on forming a Christian community, they were already very busy raising their family of seven active children. Right from the beginning, they sensed that God wanted a community encompassing single men and women, families and couples, from various Christian traditions and churches, to join together as an ecumenical, charismatic, covenant community, not just for the duration of their lives, but for future generations as well.
The People of God community formally began in 1974 when the first group of ten members made a covenant commitment to serve the Lord together as a people. During this time a number of residential households were established with married couples and singles living under the same roof. These households groupings shared many meals together and had regular times for common prayer and Scripture reading. Over the years Bob and Bobbie enthusiastically shared their family life with many individuals who wanted to experience household living together. At one point they had 19 folks living together in the Tedesco family house. As one might expect, there were some dispiriting words from neighbors and other outsiders who frowned on this type of Christian community living. As Bobbie recalls, “Some of the neighbors thought we were a hippie commune, while others speculated that we were housing illegal immigrants in the basement!” In spite of criticisms, challenges, problems and mistakes which often come with new beginnings and with rapid growth, the community leaders continued to build. When thoughts of failure came, they were quickly dispelled by recalling God’s word: “Build to last!”
Bob recognized from the beginning the enormous task in building a Christian
community and the necessity to learn from and work with other builders
of Christian communities. Bob sought out helpful counsel and support from
The Word of God community in Ann Arbor, one of the founding covenant communities
in the USA. In 1982 the People of God became an affiliate member of The
Sword of the Spirit, an association of ecumenical communities around
the world. Establishing close relationships with other Christian communities
has proven over the years to be a great source of wisdom, teaching, support,
and lasting relationships.
and Bobbie Tedesco reflect on their community building experience:
"Looking back on building the community, I feel privileged to be a part of a work of God. In participating in this work of God, Bob and I have developed many lasting Christian relationships for ourselves and for our children." - Bobbie
“I am astounded at how much the Lord has done with this community. In joining The Sword of the Spirit, God has made us part of a bulwark that can be a source of strength and defense in living out the Christian way of life, especially in an increasingly secular and hostile environment. This also allows us to develop and maintain relationships with other Christian communities all over the world. The international aspect is, at the same time, amazing and encouraging to me.” - Bob
Tom and Patty Mangan were both involved in the charismatic renewal since the late 1960s. They joined the People of God community in 1978. They moved their family from the North Hills of Pittsburgh to Coraopolis to live move closely with other community families in a neighborhood cluster. One of their children, named Joy, was afflicted with cerebral palsy and was profoundly mentally handicapped. She was accepted and loved by the whole community and she regularly attended community events and prayer meetings until she passed away in 1986. In the midst of daily challenges and struggles, Tom and Patty experienced community life as a great support for strengthening their faith in God and deepening their married life as well.
Tom began full time employment with the community in 1988, leaving a
career of 12 years as a Guidance Counselor at Central Catholic High School
in Pittsburgh. Tom is currently serving his second term as the senior
coordinator of the community, following Bob Tedesco who served in that
capacity for the previous 25 years.
and Patty Mangan reflect on their experience
"I'm amazed that even though we probably didn't make all the wisest decisions in our attempt to build community, God was still able to bring us to where we are today in the People of God." - Patty
“I feel so fortunate and honored to be in the forefront of such a significant move of God. I am amazed at it all”. - Tom
Over the years, smaller prayer groups and parts of groups have heard the same call as those before them and have come to join forces to become part of the bulwark of the Lord. Single folks, couples and families from the North Hills, South Hills, and the West Hills of Pittsburgh and from Butler have come to be part of this work of God.
We have established an active University Christian Outreach (UCO) chapter that has doubled in size over this past year as well as a high school youth program. Summer camp for kids in the 3rd through 6th grade began in 1999 and has been going stronger each year and an outstanding children’s ministry takes place during our general gatherings. We have sponsored innumerable conferences, retreats, concerts, healing services, campouts, breakfasts and other evangelistic activities.
Nearly 65% of our members live in clusters, the first formed in Coraopolis, then followed by the Laurel Gardens (North Hills) and the South Hills areas. Others of the community are spread apart geographically; those at the farther ends are located approximately 50 mile in one direction or the other from the community office in Coraopolis and must travel equal time to attend community gatherings and small group meetings. But they do so with willing hearts to be with the brothers and sisters of the community and to be part of a stronghold of the Lord.
There has been a lot of work in developing family life, Lord’s Day celebrations, and sharing everyday life experiences. There are about 140 adults in the community. Our membership is mostly Catholic, with several Protestant families and a Byzantine couple as well. We place great value on the ecumenical aspect of our life together. We hold regular community gatherings, small groups and several yearly retreats. Each November we gather to celebrate our community birthday. Many of our members attend The Sword of the Spirit summer conferences; YES retreats; SIP and GAP programs and the various mission trips. We were accepted as a fully formed member community within The Sword of the Spirit in 1997.
University Christian Outreach Retreat - September, 2006
In an effort to pass on the vision of community life an initiations group called Koinonia has been formed. The focus of this group is to introduce Post-University Christian Outreach folks to the call of the Lord toward community life. They have responded enthusiastically to the teachings, community care and the fellowship that they enjoy with others across the district lines. Many of them have entered into “underway” commitments with the wider body of the People of God community.
Our leadership consists of seven men who serve as coordinators; five men who serve on the Senior Men’s Leaders Team; seven women on the Senior Women’s Leader’s Team; a number of pastoral leaders, small group leaders; and a full time youth worker; all assisted by service teams and a host of others willing to step up to serve in any way necessary. We are truly a blessed people.
Through these many years, our life together hasn’t always gone smoothly,
the community continues to thrive, and the Lord brightens our path
and leads us on. He has blessed us with strong, steadfast leadership and
a bond of brotherhood and sisterhood throughout the world that steadies
our ship even in the roughest storms of community life. God is good and
He is faithful; all we need do is rely on Him and He will sustain us. God
continues to be our light and we hope always to reflect that light to others.